Are Millennials Getting It Right on Staying Healthy?

Contact Info: 

Laura Kubitz (kubitz@ific.org)
Matt Raymond (raymond@ific.org

Survey Provides Insight on Millennials’ Attitudes Toward Health and Wellness

(WASHINGTON, DC, October 27, 2015) — It’s no secret that Millennials are a unique part of the population defined by events and characteristics that set them apart from any other generation. When it comes to health and nutrition, the theme remains the same.

According to the International Food Information Council (IFIC) Foundation’s 2015 Food and Health Survey, compared to the general U.S. population, Millennials (18- to 34-year-old respondents) have differing opinions on traditional healthful habits, usage of resources and information for staying healthy, and even on the value of some nutrients. But is their unique approach to health and wellness the right one?

“Millennials are a unique generation, and their approach to health and fitness is no exception,” said Sarah Romotsky, RD, director of health and wellness for the IFIC Foundation. “This research gave us an inside look at how Millennials are optimistic about the future of food, they look to their friends and family for support, they use technology as a tool to reach their health goals, and they have shifting attitudes about the value of certain nutrients.”

Barriers to a Healthful Lifestyle

Though Millennials are similar to the general population in stating that lack of time is a major barrier to losing or maintaining weight, stress and work are additional hurdles for Millennials. Because of these perceived barriers, Millennials have unique coping mechanisms.

  • More Millennials (16 percent) attribute having a workout buddy as contributing to success in maintaining/losing weight, compared to 10 percent of the general population.
  • Given extra time and money, Millennials would use those resources on health and fitness endeavors.

Millennials are also less likely to have adopted healthful habits.

  • 70 percent of Millennials state that they have cut calories by drinking water, or low- and no-calorie beverages, compared to 76 percent of the general population who have reduced calories in this fashion.
  • 54 percent of Millennials state that they have cut back on foods higher in solid fats, compared to 61 percent of the general population who have done so.
  • Fewer Millennials are eating smaller meals or snacks (33 percent vs. 41 percent of the general population).

Whom Do Millennials Trust?

In addition to different perceived barriers to better health, Millennials are more likely to seek alternative sources for trusted food information. Despite most Millennials stating that they trust their personal healthcare professional to provide accurate information about the foods they should be eating, more Millennials than other age groups are trusting additional information sources.

  • 41 percent of Millennials are turning to a friend or family member for accurate food information, compared to 34 percent of the general population.
  • More Millennials (33 percent vs. 24 percent of the general population) trust health, food, and nutrition bloggers as sources of food information.

Millennials Are Going Digital

Beyond turning to alternative sources for trusted information, Millennials are improving their diets in different ways.

  • More Millennials (45 percent) are using family’s and friends’ support to improve their diet, compared to the general population (32 percent).
  • Millennials are turning to digital resources to improve their diets.
    • Thirty-six percent of Millennials are using an app or other means to track daily food and beverage intake, compared to 22 percent of the population.
    • Twice as many Millennials (12 percent) are using an online support group, blog, or other online community, compared to the general population (6 percent).

Looking toward the future, Millennials are optimistic about future food innovations and inventions. If Millennials time-traveled 30 years into the future and found an appliance that turned raw ingredients into meals, 89 percent of Millennials would be excited, vs. 80 percent of the general population. Similarly, more Millennials (79 percent vs. 69 percent of the general population) are excited to try a 3D printer that can make any food from scratch.

Shifting Attitudes on the Value of Nutrients

Millennials also have different opinions about nutrition. When asked specifically about calorie sources and weight gain, only 20 percent of Millennials state that all sources of calories have the same effect on weight gain, compared to 27 percent of the general population.  They are also less focused on limiting or avoiding calories than the general population.  

Like the general population, Millennials are more concerned about the amount and type of sugars they eat than they are about the type or amount of carbohydrates consumed. Within the Millennial demographic, women and those with higher household incomes are the most concerned. 

Millennials also agree with the general population that moderate sugar intake can be a part of a healthful diet and believe that there are differences between the healthfulness of naturally occurring and other types of sugars.

“Sugar is among the most heated topics in nutrition today,” said Kris Sollid, RD, director of nutrient communications for the IFIC Foundation. “The truth is that healthful diets don’t have to be perfect, restrictive, or void of sugar. Flexibility is the key. There are many ways to achieve good health, and enjoying a sweet treat every now and then can be part of that.”

When it comes to dietary fat, Millennials realize the healthfulness of omega fatty acids but do not fully understand the differences between different types of fats.

  • 64 percent of Millennials rate omega-3 fatty acids, a type of polyunsaturated fat, as healthful, yet only 17 percent of Millennials rate polyunsaturated fats as healthful.
  • Moreover, 42 percent of Millennials report that they are unaware of the healthfulness of polyunsaturated fats.
  • One in three Millennials have recently changed their view on the healthfulness of saturated fat.
    • Of those shifting their opinion of saturated fat in the last year, Millennial men are more likely to view its healthfulness more favorably.
  • Millennials are less likely to think certain oils are healthful, compared to the general population.

Although Millennials view protein favorably and see the importance of protein in their diets, there are still a wide range of misconceptions surrounding protein.

  • Millennials say the top reasons they don’t consume more protein is the belief that protein foods are sometimes more expensive (37%) and that they already get enough protein (34%)
  • More Millennials (21 percent) think that foods with protein will spoil if not used quickly, compared to the general population (15 percent).
  • One in five Millennials believe that higher-protein foods often have a lot of unhealthful components, compared to one in seven of the general population.

“It’s encouraging to see that Millennials are interested in learning more about eating well,” Sollid said. “Developing a positive relationship with food is one of the most important things young people can do for their health.”

The full results from the 2015 Food and Health Survey are available for download.

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The International Food Information Council Foundation is dedicated to the mission of effectively communicating science-based information on health, food safety and nutrition for the public good. The IFIC Foundation is supported primarily by the broad-based food, beverage and agricultural industries. Visit http://www.foodinsight.org